- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2003

JAKARTA, Indonesia, March 14 (UPI) — A militant Muslim cleric and alleged spiritual leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah terror group, Abu Bakar Baasyir, filed a lawsuit Friday against Indonesia's police chief demanding his release and $113 million compensation for time he spent in detention.

In the lawsuit submitted to the South Jakarta District Court, Baasyir accused the Indonesian national police chief, Gen. Dai Bachtiar, of breaching the existing law by arresting him arbitrarily.

"We filed a lawsuit against the Indonesian national police chief who have improperly applied the criminal code against Baasyir," said Mahendradata, one of the Baasyir's attorneys.

Baasyir is currently being held at the national police headquarters in Jakarta while awaiting trial. Prosecutors have said Baasyir would be tried for treason, an offence that carries a maximum penalty of 15 years imprisonment.

"The police had arbitrarily arresting Baasyir. By the arrest, the police have robbed Baasyir's freedom," Mahendradata, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, said, accusing the police had no "legal grounds" to detain the cleric since authorities had lacked strong preliminary evidence against him.

Police have detained Baasyir since October of last year, just days after the deadly bombings of nightclub in Bali's famous tourist spot on Oct. 12 that left at least 202 people dead, mostly foreign visitors. Indonesian investigators have connected Jemahh Islamiyah — a shadowy terrorist group operating in Southeast Asia and one those Western intelligence analysts say has firm links with al Qaida — with the incident. Baasyir has denied being its spiritual leader.

Initially, police accused Baasyir of involvement in a series of church bombings on Christmas Eve 2000 and in an alleged plot to assassinate President Megawati Sukarnoputri. But when the police recently submitted their dossier on Baasyir to the prosecutor's office, they changed the charge to that of committing treason against the legal government, on grounds that they lacked sufficient evidence to charge him with the bombings and alleged assassination attempt.

Police arrested Baasyir based on information provided by terrorist suspect Omar al-Faruq, believed to be a Kuwaiti nationality, who has fingered the cleric as one of his chief contacts in Indonesia.

Much of the evidence against Baasyir was based on the testimony on al-Faruq, a self-confessed al-Qaida operative who was deported from Indonesia in June this year and who is currently under U.S. custody.

Baasyir has strongly denied any knowledge about Jemaah Islamiyah, blaming the United States and its allies for creating the group with the aim of discrediting Islam. He has also denied claims that the JI operated in Singapore and Malaysia.

Police have recently implicated Baasyir in the Bali bombings after some of the arrested suspects confessed that the cleric gave "blessing" of the attack.

However, Imam Samudra, the field commander for the attacks, told his defense attorneys that the police had tortured him. His lawyers said Samudra had been stripped, degraded and blindfolded and had metal objects inserted between his toes to force him to implicate Baasyir in the planning blasts.

If the claims are true it could risk undermining the credibility of the case against those accused of the attacks. The Indonesian police has strongly denied the allegations.

Several months ago Baasyir had filed a similar lawsuit, but the south Jakarta District Court turned it down, allowing the police to proceed with the cleric's detention.

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